Thursday, February 7, 2008

Alternative Education Options: Inside Waldorf Education and Homeschooling

--FEATURE: "Primal Home w/Primal Parenting Magazine"--

Waldorf education, with its profoundly elegant and inspiring curriculum, its deep understanding of the nature of children, and its utterly holistic methodology, was started in Germany in 1919 by the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). Waldorf schools are now found in countries as different as Kenya, the Philippines, Latvia, Mexico, Canada, and Egypt, speaking deeply to people interested in nurturing the full human potential of their children.

On the one hand, Waldorf schools can seem old-fashioned, shunning electronic media and valuing play and movement throughout the elementary school years, and, on the other hand, absolutely cutting edge in their valuing of the same. For example, an increasing number of therapists and medical professionals are calling for more play, more movement, and less exposure to computers and videos for the epidemic numbers of children in this country with autism-spectrum challenges.

In Waldorf education, the child is understood to go through three distinct stages of development: from birth to age seven, seven to 14, and 14 to 21. Somewhat similar to the stages recognized by both Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori, the implications for these stages are understood very differently by Waldorf educators.

The first stage is the time when the child experiences life primarily through her physical body: she is active and learns best by whole body movement and by imitation. In order to help form and nurture her growth, the parent or kindergarten teacher works, using her hands, singing softly, and creating a gently ordered and rhythmic mood to the day, the weeks, and seasons of the young child’s life. Knowing that the child is completely open to her surroundings, Waldorf educators take great care to nurture and not over-stimulate the senses. The young child is recognized as having an entirely different consciousness than the adult or even older children. She is in a picture-consciousness stage, and to address her intellectually using abstract adult concepts is to prematurely rob her of this vital stage of imaginative oneness with the world around her.

The middle years, seven to 14, are characterized by learning via art. Not Art (capital A) tacked on to make lessons well-rounded, but via artistic creative expression. Thus the breathing and heart realms of the child are strengthened as she creatively experiences the world.

By the high school years, academic excellence and rigorous intellectual content are the order of the day. Movement, hands-on work such as crafts and gardening, are included to ground and deepen the students’ work. The beauty and soul-nurturing power of artistic expression remains a vital part of Waldorf education.

The Waldorf movement has grown tremendously across the globe and especially in the US in the past 20 years. Alongside it, another vital and energetic educational impulse has arisen–the home-schooling movement, parents striking out on their own as intrepid homeschoolers, blazing a path of independence and creativity.

Though I would say, unfortunately, that much of the home-schooling movement is plagued by the tyranny of mediocrity that has paralyzed the public school system in this country, there are many innovative and exciting streams that flow through it. And one of the new streams is the Waldorf home-schooling movement.

This is incredibly exciting to me. Having been involved in one way or another with Waldorf since I was four years old, I have embraced homeschooling with joy, seeing its flexibility and valuing of the home as sources of strength and healing for my family. Though both my sons went briefly to Waldorf schools and I support Waldorf schools wholeheartedly, there are many families–many children–who are better served by being educated at home.

Waldorf, with its utter respect for the sanctity of childhood, is well suited for those of us who choose to slow down and simplify our lives. With its emphasis on creativity and wonder, Waldorf can bring new ways of looking at life to the homeschooling parent. With its insistence on self-development of the teacher (or teacher/parent), Waldorf can help us heal our “stuff” and create healthy relationships in our families and beyond. And with its grounding in the spiritual reality of life, Waldorf can help us create meaningful spiritual/religious forms in our homes (whatever our spiritual tradition).

True education is a journey, a path–a transformation a human being undergoes over the course of his life. It is never trivial, never out of context, never disconnected from real life. Waldorf education can offer us riches, helping us to understand and educate and parent our children in a life-affirming and healthy way. My hope is that all who read this will be inspired to look into Waldorf education and, whether they choose to homeschool or send their children to Waldorf school or, simply, to bring some elements of Waldorf into their homes, to reap some of the benefits of this wise and gentle body of knowledge.

For Additional Information
  • You Are Your Child's First Teacher Rahima Baldwin;
  • Understanding Waldorf: Teaching from the Inside Out Jack Petrash;
  • Millennial Child: Transforming Education in the Twenty-first Century Eugene Schwartz.


Primal Home is written by the staff at Primal Parenting Magazine, a revolutionary new publication seeking to educate and empower families. For more information on Primal Parenting Magazine go to

The Primal Home column at The LOHASIAN will provide insights into living as a primal parent, tips and trick into simplifying your family life, and overall exploring the dynamics involved in manifesting the "primal home."

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